‘HARDLINE BUDDHISTS’ THREATEN MUSLIM COMMUNITIES IN SOUTH ASIA: BURMA AND SRI LANKA
by Syarif Hidayat
Being “peaceful” or “humble” (as claimed by their biased supporters) is a far cry concerning the Sri Lankan and Burmese Buddhists. Their vindictive temperament prowls for vendetta, waiting to use even the most insignificant occurrence as an excuse to perpetrate violence on Burmese and Sri Lankan Muslims.
At any time, if there’s some ethnic disturbance between Muslims and Buddhists/Hindus in any other country, the Sri Lankan and Burmese Buddhists waste no time going on a murderous spry killing the Muslim minority in Burma and Sri Lanka.
Arab News in its editorial titled “Sri Lanka govt must contain Buddhist bigotry” says ONE popular view of Buddhism is of a peaceable religion, some of whose devotees sweep brushes in front of them, so that they do not step on and destroy any living creature.
Unfortunately there is another, far from placid side to some Buddhists which the Muslim world has had cause to see in recent years. The genocidal attacks in Burma (Myanmar) on the luckless Muslim Rohingya community by Buddhist fanatics was, until this week, the most high profile example of this bigotry.
Now however Buddhist thugs have also been at work in Sri Lanka. A mosque in the capital Colombo has been damaged and forced to close after violent attacks by Buddhist rioters.
Extremist Buddist Monks ‘Bodu Bala Sena’
This ugly outbreak of Islamophobia has been inspired by a shadowy group known as the Bodu Bala Sena, led by extremist Buddhist monks. It is suspected that there are connections between them and the monks who have led the massacres in Myanmar.
Unfortunately, the violence against Sri Lanka’s hapless Muslim minority has to be viewed against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s recent history. More than 20 years of savage conflict ended in 2009 with the utter defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the overrunning of their strongholds in the north of the island.
The harshness with which the victorious government treated the Tamils, was initially excused on the basis that it was important that none of the rebel leaders was able to slip away, by hiding among civilians. Nevertheless, there were summary executions and refugees were herded into camps and kept there many months for “processing.”
Such was the bitter nature of the civil war that most Sri Lankans were to some extent or other brutalized. Moreover, an entire generation grew up steeped in conflict and confrontation. With the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, it seems that unfortunately some of the Sinhalese majority feel they need a new enemy, thus the country’s Muslims and indeed
The attacks on Muslim property or physical assaults on Muslims are not confined to the capital, but have been occurring with increasing frequency throughout the island.
Until recently, the violence and intimidation have been low level and might have been dismissed as the work of mischief-makers. Yet there now seems to be a pattern to these outrages. Even if the sinister Bodu Bala Sena is not behind every criminal act against Muslims, it can be sure that its own thuggish hatred is inspiring others.
Sri Lankan President’s wrong signal
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the government in Colombo must act with the greatest determination and firmness to stamp out this bigotry. The problem is that the police appear markedly reluctant to pursue and prosecute those responsible for these hate crimes.
But it is not simply their lack of action and rigor that is the problem. Sri Lanka’s Muslims are seemingly being blamed for inciting the prejudice. How else can one interpret the fact that officials at the Colombo mosque, which has been at the center of this week’s violence, have been persuaded to close the building, at least temporarily?
This is simply unacceptable. There can be nothing provocative about a mosque. It is the job of the police to protect all property and all Sri Lankan citizens. It should also be the job of the government to ensure that aggression and intimidation of the sort that has been seen in Colombo cannot be allowed to succeed. Unfortunately by failing in its duty,
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration is sending out entirely the wrong signal. Diplomatic sources suggest that there is enough evidence to prosecute some members of Bodu Bala Sena for hate crimes. These individuals ought therefore be brought to trial and if convicted given the severest of sentences.
The government needs to demonstrate that it will not tolerate these outrages. Indeed, it could be argued that it is high time that the president looked to his poor reputation for civil liberties and human rights, and cracking down on sectarian bigots would be a fine start.
Unfortunately, Rajapaksa seems to have a thick political skin. He has been accused by the UN Human Rights Council over the conduct of the civil war. And the UN organization was also critical of his administration’s treatment to all the country’s minorities. This November Rajapaksa is due to host a meeting of what used to be known as the British Commonwealth.
Some countries have said they might stay away because of Sri Lanka’s human rights record. They should reconsider. If there has been no improvement, all countries should attend the conference and should use the platform to shame and condemn Rajapaksa in the most detailed terms.
‘Hardline Buddhists’ threaten Muslims
Hayes Brown in his article titled “How South Asia’s ‘hardline Buddhists’ threaten Muslim communities” published in ThinkProgres website, writes the term “hardline Buddhist” may seem like an oxymoron, but it accurately describes the movement currently leading attacks on Muslim communities in South Asia. So far, though, the United States has done little to pressure the governments in question to halt the violence, to the chagrin of human rights activists.
Sri Lanka, where 69 percent of the population is Buddhist, is home to a small community of Muslims who kept a low-profile during the country’s lengthy civil war. Recently, however, a number of hardline Buddhist groups have sprung up, stirring anti-Muslim fervor among the majority Sinhalese ethnic group.
These groups — that call themselves names like the Buddhist Strength Force and Sinhala Echo — accused the minority community of producing exam results “distorted to favor Muslims” and claimed that calves had been slaughtered indoors — which is illegal in the country’s capital. Neither claim has borne out, but they have led to mass protests and attacks against Muslims and their communities.
Most recently, a Buddhist monk-led mob in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, swarmed and assaulted a Muslim-owned clothing warehouse on Thursday: The BBC’s Charles Haviland in Colombo said the monks led a crowd which quickly swelled to about 500, yelling insults against the shop’s Muslim owners and rounding on journalists seeking to cover the events.
Five or six were injured, including a cameraman who needed stitches.
Eyewitnesses said the police stood and watched although after the trouble spread they brought it under control. Similar persecution is ongoing against Myanmar’s Muslim communities, who make up only four percent of the total population. In the face of spreading violence, also kicked up by hardline Buddhists, Burmese Muslims are fleeing their homes, leaving behind destroyed mosques and shops.
At least 40 people have died in the clashes since March 20, as the fighting moves closer to the capital. These most recent attacks have left some 12,000 people displaced from their homes, according to the U.N.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on Myanmar human rights, on Thursday said he had “received reports of state involvement in some of the acts of violence,” earning himself a rebuke from the Burmese government. President Thein Sein on Thursday said that his government would use force if need be to clamp down on the violence, but only as a last resort.
The violence against Burmese Muslims in general has found a particular target in members of the Rohingya ethnic group. Stateless due to their status under a 1982 citizenship law, many Burmese believe the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
Because of this, the Rohingya have faced down violence and persecution for years, to the degree that some have called their situation a “genocide.” The group has caught the eye of hacktivist group Anonymous, which is now claiming credit for promoting more awareness of the Rohingya’s plight.
At present, the U.S. has backed President Thein’s call for calm, but not commented on the violence in Sri Lanka, nor taken apparent action to pressure either government to halt the attacks.
This echoes previous instances of violence, such as in Sept. 2012, when the State Department urged Bangladesh to keep its borders open as Rohingya fled from Myanmar. President Obama, during his Nov. 2012 visit to Myanmar, called for greater protection of minorities in the country. So far, this call hasn’t not seemed to be heard in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Hardline Buddhists target Muslims in Sri Lanka
Palash R. Ghosh in his article titled “Hardline Buddhists target Muslims in Sri Lanka” published in International Busniness Times, writes Sectarian violence on the island nation of Sri Lanka again threatens to tear the country’s fragile fabric apart. Government commando forces have stepped up security around Muslim-owned businesses and homes around the nation after a mob of hundreds of Buddhist extremists set fire to a clothing store and warehouse in Pepiliyana, a suburb of the capital of Colombo, on Thursday.
The crowd also smashed vehicles and pelted stones before an army unit was called in to disperse the rioters. No arrests were made, however. The attack injured at least five people, including journalists seeking to cover the event, and appears to reflect the continuing hostility directed at minority Muslims from hard-line members of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority.
Muslims account for about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population. “We are deploying more mobile patrols in vulnerable [Muslim] areas [across Sri Lanka],” a senior police officer told the Agence France- Presse news agency.The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka warned that Thursday’s disturbances pushed religious and ethnic tensions to the island to a new high.
“It has created a fear psychosis among the Muslims,” N.M. Ameen, the council president, told AFP. “[But] we know a majority of the [Buddhist] people do not support this type of activity.” Indeed, one of Sri Lanka’s most vocal and prominent Buddhist nationalist group, the Bodhu Bala Sena, or BBS, which means “Buddhist Force,” denied they were involved in the latest altercations.
“We condemn this attack in the strongest terms,” BBS spokesman Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara told reporters in Colombo. But BBS has a history of making inflammatory remarks against Muslims, having already forced Islamic clerics to withdraw halal certification on local foods, citing that it “offends” non-Muslims.
BBS officials have also claimed that Muslim students receive favorable treatment in schools and are carrying out illegal practices related to the slaughter of livestock. Some nationalist Buddhist monks also accuse Muslims of constructing too many mosques, seeking to forcibly convert Buddhists to Islam and of having too many children in order to increase their influence in society.
Akmeemana Dayarathana, founder of another ultra-nationalist Buddhist group, Sinhala Echo, said that Muslims have a history of destroying Buddhist communities and cultures across South and East Asia.
“[Sri Lanka] is the only country for the Sinhalese,” he told BBC. ”Look around the world — Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others — they were all Buddhist countries, but the Muslims destroyed the culture and then took over the country. We worry they’re planning it here too.”
The violence in Pepiliyana echoed an incident from January, when another Buddhist mob threw stones at a Muslim-owned clothing store outside Colombo, while other Buddhists have called for a boycott of Muslim businesses.
Over the past year, a number of mosques have been attacked, vandalized and defaced. An extraordinary facet of these attacks is that they are often led by robe-wearing Buddhist monks. Sri Lanka has already endured a devastating multidecade civil war that pitted the majority Sinhalese Buddhists against a group of separatist ethnic Tamils, who are Hindu. The Tamils were brutally crushed by the army in the final stages of that civil war.
Muslims generally stayed out of that conflict, maintaining a low profile, although they suffered many casualties. Now, fearing a renewed wave of violence, the government’s Minister for Justice Rauff Hakeem (a Muslim) has asked Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne to call a cabinet meeting to discuss security issues and the vulnerability of Muslims in the country.
Colombo police have also established a phone hotline for people to complain about anyone seeking to “incite religious or racial hatred.” Some analysts believe that extremist Sinhalese Buddhists, fresh off their defeat and demoralization of Tamil Hindus, are now targeting another visible minority — the Muslims.
“The country is seen today as Sinhala Buddhist,” said Sanjana Hattotuwa, editor of groundviews.org, a journalism website. “The end of the [Sinhalese vs. Tamil civil] war ironically has given the space for new social fault lines to occur.”
Hattotuwa’s organization has cited that in the early 1980s Buddhists committed a type of pogrom against Hindu Tamils, which eventually precipitated a multidecade civil war. Now they fear the government (dominated by Sinhalese Buddhists) is not doing enough to prevent another potential conflagration.
“The vandalism of mosques around the country are ominous signs,” an editorial in Groundviews states. “The inaction by the authorities, and in some case the support of the organization by members of the government, is paving the way for further racism.
“For a nation that prides itself on being ‘multinational,’ such racist sentiment will only serve to damage its future. Nationalistic ideals fueled by racism cost the country 30 years [in the civil war]; unfortunately, four years on from the end of the last conflict, Sri Lanka appears to be headed down the same path.”
Sri Lanka Buddhists disrupt mosque’s prayers
A mosque in Sri Lanka has been forced to abandon its Friday prayers amid community tensions in the central town of Dambulla. About 2,000 Buddhists, including monks, marched to the mosque and held a demonstration demanding its demolition, along with a Hindu temple being built in an area designated as a Buddhist sacred zone.
Monk Inamaluwe Sri Sumangala Thera told the AP news agency that the construction area was inside the zone and that erecting houses of worship for other religions there was illegal. He demanded the authorities stop the construction immediately. Shortly after the protest, the mosque was evacuated under police protection and its Friday prayers cancelled.
Many Buddhists regard Dambulla as a sacred town and in recent months there had been other sectarian tensions in the area. Last September a monk led a crowd to demolish a Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura, not far from Dambulla. M Rahmathullah, a trustee of the mosque, disputed the Buddhist claim.
“We do not agree to their claim. The mosque was in the area for more than 50 years,” said Rahmathullah. Overnight the mosque had been targeted by a fire bombing, but nobody was hurt. Buddhism is the religion of the majority of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people.
About 74 per cent are Sinhalese, who are mostly Buddhists, while about 18 per cent are Tamils, who are predominantly Hindus or Christians. About seven per cent of the total population are Muslims.
Myanmar Muslims suffering amid media blackout
Kourosh Ziabari in his article titled “Myanmar Muslims suffering amid media blackout” published in www.Onlineopinian.com.au , writes As Muslims around the world prepare for the holy month of Ramadan, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are being painfully subjected to barbaric and appalling atrocities of extremist Buddhists. Their lives are in a constant state of trepidation and suffering.
Branded by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities of the world, Rohingyas are a Muslim people living in the Rakhine State, located in the west of Myanmar. With a population of 3 million, Rakhine state is bordered by the Bay of Bengal to the west and the majority of its residents are Theravada Buddhists and Hindus.
The suppression of the Rohingya Muslims of the Arakan region dates back to World War II. On March 28, 1942, about 5,000 Rohingya Muslims were brutally massacred by the Rakhine nationalists in the Minbya and Mrohaung Townships. After this incident, the Muslims of the region were frequently subject to harassment by the Burmese government which has so far refused to grant them official citizenship.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, this lack of full citizenship rights means that the Rohingyas should tolerate other abuses, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, and arbitrary confiscation of property.
It’s said that as a result of dire living conditions and discriminatory treatment by the government, some 300,000 Rohingyas have so far immigrated to Bangladesh and 24,000 of them have also escaped to Malaysia in search of a better life. Many of them have also fled to Thailand, but neither Bangladesh nor Thailand has received them warmly.
Bangladesh is negotiating with the Burmese government to return the Rohingyas and Thailand has sporadically rejected them. There have been instances where boats of Rohingyas reaching Thailand have been towed out to sea and allowed to sink, sparking international anger among Muslims and non-Muslims.
Human Rights Watch says that the government authorities continue to require Rohingya Muslims to perform forced labor. According to HRW, those who refuse or complain are physically threatened, sometimes with death, and children as young as seven years old have been seen on forced labour teams.
Writing for The Egyptian Gazette, University of Waterloo professor Dr. Mohamed Elmasry has enumerated the different hardships the Rohingya Muslims have historically undergone. He writes that they are subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation, land confiscation, forced eviction and house destruction and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced labourers on roads and at military camps.
The Myanmar government’s mistreatment of the Rohingyas, however, has long been contested and protested by international organizations. For several years, human rights activists have decried the arbitrary measures levelled against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by the government and extremist Buddhists.
In May 2009, Elaine Pearson, the Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director issued a statement in protest at the deteriorating conditions of the Rohingya Muslims, calling on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to press the Burmese government to end its brutal practices: “the treatment of the Rohingya in Burma is deplorable – the Burmese government doesn’t just deny Rohingya their basic rights, it denies they are even Burmese citizens.”
Now, conflict has escalated in the Rakhine State again and Muslims are once more experiencing difficult days. It was reported that 10 Rohingya Muslims were killed by a mob of 300 Rakhines while on their way back from the country’s former capital Rangoon.
According to a group of UK-based NGOs, 650 Rohingyas were massacred from June 10 to 28. The United Nations estimates that between 50,000 and 90,000 Rohingyas were displaced since the eruption of violence in the Asian nation. However, due to the absence of independent reporters and monitors in the country, it’s impossible to verify the exact number of those who have been displaced.
It’s also reported that some 9,000 homes belonging to Muslims in the western state of Rakhine were destroyed. On July 20, Amnesty International called the recent attacks against minority Rohingyas and other Muslims in Myanmar a “step back” in the country’s recent progress on human rights, citing increased violence and unlawful arrests following a state of emergency declared six weeks ago.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has voiced its concern over the recent violence in the state of Rakhine and the varying reports which have leaked out as to the number of the Muslims killed. As reported by the TimeTurk News Agency, over 1,000 Rohingya Muslims have been murdered thus far in conflicts in the region. The mainstream media in the West have been largely silent about the massacre of Muslims in Myanmar and the ordeal that has befallen them.
Along with the mainstream media, the Western governments have also blatantly turned a blind eye to the heartrending anguish and suffering of the Rohingya Muslims. Even the renowned Burmese political activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who has been released from house arrest and was just invited to Norway to deliver her Nobel acceptance speech 21 years after being awarded the prize, preferred not to speak about the affliction of her fellow citizens.
People around the world, however, should realize that coming to the help of a subjugated minority that is undergoing excruciating hardship is a moral responsibility and although the so-called international community is silent about the inhumane massacre of Muslims in Myanmar, each of us can lend a hand in putting an end to their suffering.
Who will feed Rohingya Myanmar Muslims?
AID groups have warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in western Myanmar as authorities attempt to isolate tens of thousands of the displaced ethnic Rohingya minority in camps described by one aid worker as “open air prisons”. Aid has struggled to reach those affected by sectarian unrest in early June. The UN announced on Friday that 10 aid workers in Arakan state had been arrested, five were UN staff. Some have been charged, although the details remain unclear.
Rates of malnutrition among the Muslim Rohingya, who have borne the brunt of emergency measures implemented in the wake of fierce rioting in June between the minority group and the majority Arakanese, are said to be “alarming”. Most aid workers have either been evacuated or forced to flee in recent weeks.
“We are worried that malnutrition rates already have and will continue to rise dramatically; if free and direct humanitarian access accompanied by guaranteed security is not granted with the shortest delay, there’s no way they won’t rise,” said Tarik Kadir of Action Against Hunger.
Its staff were forced to leave northern Arakan state, where 800,000 Rohingya live and where malnutrition rates were already far above the global indicator for a health crisis. With scant medical care reaching the area, the situation is likely to worsen.
“There’s no way of measuring the impact over the past month because staff have either been evacuated or forced to flee,” he said. “And given that rainy season is under way, when you factor in all these other problems, we don’t need to measure it to know it’s a catastrophe.”
President Thein Sein, who has been praised for reform, unsuccessfully requested UN help in resettling nearly one million Rohingya abroad. Critics likened it to mass deportation. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said it “would expect a strong international response” to any attempt to deport the Rohingya. HRW staff who recently returned from Arakan state said that while both Rohingya and Arakanese were complicit in “terrible violence” during the rioting, subsequent mass arrests “focused on Rohingya”.
“Local police, the military, and border police have shot and killed Rohingya during sweep operations, those detained are being held incommunicado,” she said.
A resident of Maungdaw in northern Arakan said he had witnessed Rohingya men and children as young as 12 being tortured in a police station in early July. After interrogating them about arson attacks in the town, police “handed them over” to Arakanese youths inside the station.
“I saw these youths burning the vital parts of old men with a cheroot [cigar] and also hitting young Muslim detainees with an iron rod.” The official death toll of the rioting and its aftermath has been put at 78, although the real figure may be much higher.
International observers are banned from visiting northern Arakan state. A 1982 law refuses to recognise the Rohingya as Myanmar citizens, and hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh. The aid problems have coincided with a dramatic rise in food prices in Arakan. — The Guardian, London.
11 Muslims killed by Buddhists in Myanmar
At least eleven Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have been killed after extremist Buddhists set fire to their houses in two Muslim villages in the city of Sittwe in the western Rakhine state, a report says.
The incident occurred when a number of Buddhists backed by army and border forces set fire to houses of Muslims in the villages of Mamra and Mraut late Sunday, Radio Banga reported. Myanmar army forces allegedly provided the Buddhists with big containers of petrol to set ablaze the houses of Muslim villagers and force them to flee their houses.
The silence of the human rights organizations towards abuses against the Rohingya Muslims has emboldened the extremist Buddhists and Myanmar’s government forces.
The Buddhist-majority government of Myanmar refuses to recognize Rohingyas and has classified them as illegal migrants, even though the Rohingyas are said to be Muslim descendants of Persian, Turkish, Bengali, and Pathan origin, who migrated to Myanmar as early as the 8th century.
According to reports, thousands of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims are living in dire conditions in refugee camps after government forces and Buddhist extremists started burning down their villages on August 10.
Reports say some 650 Rohingyas have been killed in the Rakhine state in the west of the country in recent months. This is while 1,200 others are missing and 80,000 more have been displaced. (HSH)